January 22, 2019 by

Branding has gotten a little ridiculous. Specifically, a growing list of organizations, including Nike, have been getting RDQLUS, courtesy of creator Steve Gordon.

When the limited edition Cultivator X Nike “CODES” Capsule Collection became available on Oct. 15, 2018, most sneakerheads might not have guessed that the sleek, globally-inspired set of shoes were designed by a branding specialist and graphic designer based in Omaha. 

The exclusive set of three pairs of shoes designed by Gordon represents years of global travel, networking, and brand development.

Cultivator, an incubator-style startup platform to support creatives who make good use of social media, is the latest iteration of a program on Nike’s campus that has been developing for years. While celebrity designs have been common in the sneaker market since the mid-1980s, the Cultivator program is changing the marketing game for the social media era. The idea of the program is to tap into a new market of customers interested in supporting the work of local creatives they follow on social media and know in person. 

Gordon, owner of RDQLUS Creative, works with several brand and design clientele. He has hosted a live sneaker podcast with a group called Obsessive Sneaker Disorder, and he also co-founded Connoshoer, an app that allowed shoe collectors to share their favorite kicks on social media.

So when Leslie Bradshaw, a friend who works at Nike, invited Gordon to be part of the first class in the Cultivator program, Gordon could not pass up the opportunity. He created his 2012 “Classy Concrete” pack for Nike. The shoes sold with “some success” and, in 2017, he was invited back to the Cultivator program, this time creating the “Citizen of the Globe” pack.

He sees the Cultivator project as an asset to both Nike and the designers involved. “I think it’s a great program. That is a big part of sneaker and style culture, the exposure. The intent of the program is to introduce new faces that tell stories,” he says.

These sneakers were exclusively available for seven days, and Gordon, as designer, earned 10 percent of the sales. Gordon, however, created the project more for the exposure than the money. Named the Codes collection, these sneakers expand on the “Citizen of the Globe” collection and are based around the global airport coding system. Each of the three distinct shoe designs in the collection features a code—CPH for Copenhagen, LHR for London Heathrow, and ARN for Stockholm Arlanda—and symbolizes the city in which the airport resides. 

Gordon visited all three airports in summer 2017. Travel plays a key role in his life. He frequently travels as an entrepreneur and a track coach.

Gordon’s resume includes branding, creative, and design work with HDR, Disney, Microsoft, and the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce. But having a nationally known sneaker with his name on it is special to him.

“I’m a lifelong athlete and a sneaker collector, and even if it doesn’t happen to be your favorite brand, they are still Nike—a juggernaut even outside of the athletic realm,” Gordon says. “To have my work and story featured on a pair of shoes is almost beyond words, because it’s a strange type of confluence to have my work, athletics, and personal history all converge in this way.”


Visit rdql.us for more information.

This article was printed in the February/March 2019 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.